Florida National Guard troops were approved by the state’s legislature Friday to assist, even temporarily, at understaffed state prisons.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also issued an executive order Friday activating Guardsmen to assist the Florida Department of Corrections in an effort to reduce overtime and provide relief for correctional officers on a temporary basis.
“We are preparing for that mission, and are estimating a requirement of up to 300 FLNG Guardsmen for a period not to exceed 9 months,” Florida Guard spokesman Will Manley said in a statement to Military Times.
The Tallahassee Democrat reported that the state plan sets aside more than $31 million to “assist the FDC at facilities for nine months or until the FDC determines it no longer needs National Guard assistance.”
The executive order said Guardsmen won’t be used for “any direct supervision of inmates except where such supervision occurs as a normal part of manning control stations or when required in an emergency pertaining to safety and security.”
Florida National Guard Lt. Col. Peter Jennison told the Tallahassee Democrat he expected all those assigned would volunteer for the prison assignments.
“We think we’ll be able to right-size ourselves by the end of the fiscal year,” Mark Tallent, the chief financial officer for the corrections department, told the Tallahassee Democrat.
Tallent told the commission that the current vacancy rate is 24.1%, and the department had 4,000 openings.
Florida’s prison population surpassed 82,000 at the end of July and is expected to reach more than 93,000 by the 2027-28 fiscal year, according to the latest state figures.
“With the temporary support of the Florida National Guard we will be able to recover and train the next generation of public safety professionals to perform our important mission,” Department of Corrections Secretary Ricky Dixon said in a statement reported by the Tallahassee Democrat.
Some Democratic lawmakers in Florida still have concerns, however, over the availability of National Guard members during hurricane emergencies.
“What would happen then to our correctional facilities, and why would we be trying to spread our National Guard so thin?” said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, the incoming state House Democratic leader, during a press conference with other Democrats. She also warned the troops may not have the same training as the correctional officers.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media